African attitudes towards homosexuality revealed in unprecedented survey


Alliance magazine


South Africa’s The Other Foundation and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) have released the results of a national survey of public attitudes to homosexuality in the country. More than 3000 South Africans were interviewed in this first-of-its-kind survey.

As Neville Gabriel, CEO of the Other Foundation, explains, ‘there is a general belief that people in Africa are deeply homophobic and un-accepting of gender diversities. But the truth is that, up to now, we haven’t really known what the African public really thinks because hardly any work has been done to gather and analyze [their] views in a structured way.’

The survey report is titled ‘progressive prudes’ to reflect the often contradictory nature of its findings. Whilst the majority of South Africans think that gay and lesbian people should have equal human rights protections, the majority also think that sex between people of the same sex is morally wrong.

55% of those surveyed say that they will ‘accept’ a gay family member but only one in four people report having a friend or family member whom they know is homosexual. Over half a million South African women and men identify themselves as homosexual, bisexual, or gender non-conforming – consistent with similar population ratios in other parts of the world.

The survey yielded some disturbing results. Whilst 8 out of every 10 people have not, nor would they ever consider, verbally or physically abusing someone who was gender non-conforming, over half a million South Africans have physically harmed either men or women seen to be ‘dressing and behaving like the opposite sex’ within the last year. According to the report, the most compelling explanations of gender based violence point to gender inequality and the prevalence of strong patriarchal norms and values. As Crain Soudien, CEO of the HSRC says, ‘the results convey the considerable effort still required to ensure that society understands and respects the rights of LGBT people in the country.’

However, perception does seem to be shifting. Since 2012 there has been a tenfold increase of South Africans who ‘strongly agree’ with allowing same-sex marriage. The proportion of people ‘strongly disagreeing’ dropped by half – from 48.5 percent then, to 23.4 percent now. Soudien concludes ‘the study offers some encouraging signs. Such knowledge serves as an important basis for further promoting social justice by enriching and shaping social dialogue, advocacy, and policy interventions.”

For more information, view the full report here.

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